Why is hygiene important?

Handwashing with soap and water is one of the cheapest ways to prevent the spread of disease. Learn more about how we embed hygiene education in to all of our projects.

Something as simple as handwashing with soap reduces cases of diarrhea and other diseases. Good hygiene maximizes the benefits of clean water and reliable toilets, keeping people healthy for generations to come.

Yet, hygiene promotion schemes, where they exist, often fail to change entrenched practices such as going to the toilet in open areas around the community. They also often don’t address cultural taboos such as menstrual health and hygiene training for young women. And even when people have the knowledge to make positive changes, they often lack soap or access to washing facilities.

Unfortunately, hygiene remains one of the least prioritised areas of development. While it is, in theory, an integrated part of global water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) work, in reality this is often not the case.

One of the major challenges in getting governments and service providers to prioritise hygiene, is the lack of understanding of how it links with health, social and economic outcomes. Research shows that improving hygiene practices is often an afterthought, and standalone hygiene intervention programs are rare.

What we've done together

Last year we reached

with hygiene education for use in the home, such as washing food before cooking.

Home icon | WaterAid

1,000,000 students and teachers

with hygiene education at school. Information that is passed on to the students' families and the wider community.

Education icon | WaterAid

1,900,000 patients and health workers

in health care facilities, to help stem the spread of infections and speed up recovery times.

Health care facilities | WaterAid

Our approach

At WaterAid, we include hygiene in everything we do. In addition to promoting and supporting the delivery of handwashing facilities in people’s homes, schools, health centers and other community spaces, we work with communities to encourage change in hygiene behavior.

We know from experience that simply sharing knowledge of good hygiene practices rarely results in sustained behavior change. So instead, based on evidence of what does work, we design hygiene behavior change intervention packages to motivate people by understanding and appealing to what they care about, taking into account the norms and values they share with their wider community.

Key hygiene behaviors we focus on include:

  • Handwashing with soap at critical locations (hospitals, schools and public places for example)

  • Managing water safely, from its source to its consumption

  • Hygienic use of sanitation facilities so that feces is dealt with safely

  • Food hygiene

  • Menstrual hygiene

  • Other context-specific behaviors, such as face washing and waste management

We monitor and evaluate our work to learn from it, and share this learning to make a bigger difference. We collaborate with ministries and agencies responsible for women’s issues, young people and the environment, including the private sector and academia. And we raise awareness of the importance of good hygiene and motivate others through partnerships water, sanitation and hygiene, education, food and nutrition, and health – especially maternal and child health.


From advocacy to engineering, we cover a lot of ground, but the fundamentals of our work are simple:

Clean water infrastructure means people can access clean, running water 365 days a year.

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Toilets matter more than you might think. Sanitation is fundamental for the dignity and health of a community.

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Hygiene is the final piece of the puzzle. Good hygiene helps people stay healthier, it prevents the spread of diseases and allows people to flourish.

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